Harding’s Tomb and Monument

Admission to Harding’s Tomb and Monument is free.

  • Open daily during daylight hours
  • Location: (Map It) Marion, Ohio on the corner of State Route 423 and Vernon Heights Blvd.
  • Phone: 740-387-9630

Harding’s Tomb and Monument:  President Warren G. Harding’s tomb is a white, circular monument made of Georgia marble and his monument is set in 10 landscaped acres and takes the appearance of a round Greek temple. He became our 29th President (the eighth from Ohio) in 1921. He was born in 1865 and died in office in June of 1923.

Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler
PRESIDENT Warren G. Harding

The State of Ohio has produced more presidents than any other—eight to be exact. It’s tempting to say they were all great, but in truth they’ve run the gamut from excellent to the opposite. The reputation of the 29th President, Warren G. Harding, rests on the bottom rungs. He is consistently ranked among scholars as one of our country’s worst presidents.

However, that does not mean that the state or his hometown of Marion has attempted to diminish his stature. To the contrary, Harding’s home at 380 Mount Vernon Avenue has been restored in every detail including furnishings. The self-styled press building at the rear of the house, built for reporters during his popular “front-porch” campaign has been transformed into a museum. Furthermore, his memorial in Marion is ostentatious by any standard and one of the most beautiful shrines anywhere outside of Washington D.C.

Located in a ten-acre manicured park, the memorial is constructed of white Georgian marble in the style of a Greek temple. The rounded roofless structure consisting of forty-six columns is of startling magnitude and splendor.  It projects more than five stories skyward and exceeds one hundred feet in diameter with a center garden spot that is the resting place of the President and his wife.

This monument is significant to American history because it is the last of highly crafted presidential tombs. Since Harding’s time, burial designs have been simpler and combined with presidential libraries.

It seems contradictory that Harding’s lowly assessed tenure makes him so interesting. The attraction however, is not for accomplishments, but for reasons of his basement ranking.  The major events of his campaign and administration so closely parallel recent corruption, greed, and malfeasance in both government and private sector that one is assured that history does indeed repeat.

Harding had ascended from State Senator and Lieutenant Governor of Ohio to the US Senate, but was unknown except in his own region when he came out of nowhere to capture the nomination in 1920.  He had been the successful publisher of a newspaper (presently The Marion Star) and married to the daughter of his most staunch critic. It is said his wife Florence was the shrewder politician and “pushed him all the way to the White House.” Florence was the business manager of the paper and understood the relationship between candidate and press. She oversaw the construction of a bungalow at the rear of their house to use as an always-available press office. She even coached Warren G. on the proper wave to newsreel cameras for the best coverage. It was one of several precedents set during the campaign and term.

Harding was also the first to use the endorsement power of Hollywood stars along with the most powerful business triumvirate of Ford, Edison, and Firestone—although this was a conservative bunch rather than the Hollywood left of today.

He campaigned on a “Return to Normalcy” after the Great War, which appealed to everyone, and his support of women’s suffrage and the ratification of the 19thamendment brought huge crowds of women to Marion.

Harding was the first sitting Senator to be elected President, and only John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama have followed. During the campaign it was alleged that Harding’s great-great-grandfather was a West Indian black man—a rumor reinforced by Harding’s reply to a reporter. “How do I know?” he said. “One of my ancestors may have jumped the fence.” Of course this prompts the question of whether Barack Obama is really the first bi-racial President.

Harding was a handsome man and political analysts have long contended his electoral success was based largely on his appearance. He looked “presidential.” One pundit refers to the flawed process by which people make voting decisions based on appearance as the “Warren Harding Error.” It was an astute observation by a fellow senator upon Harding’s nomination that he was “no world-beater but the best of the second-raters.”

Harding won the 1920 election—the first for women voters—in an unprecedented landslide, and the slither toward depravity began almost immediately.  He chose to surround himself with a group of cronies who became know as the “Ohio Gang.” Led by Attorney General Harry Daugherty, the gang in their two year, five-month infestation stole by some estimates as much as  $300 million from the public coffers. They let it be known that every appointed job was to be sold—from judgeship to janitor, plus the sale of public lands and oil reserves.  There is no proof that Harding benefited from the graft, but evidence points to his cognizance and an inability to stop it. “I have no trouble with my enemies,” he was quoted. “But my damn friends—they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights.”

In the months prior to his death, word of scandals crept into the public domain. Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall had taken bribes from greedy oil interests for leasing of the Teapot Dome oil reserves in Wyoming without competitive bidding, and Charles Forbes who was Director of the newly formed Veterans Bureau had skimmed millions from contracting veterans hospitals. Eventually both Forbes and Fall served prison terms and two of their assistants committed suicide.

If that wasn’t bad enough, dalliances in Harding’s personal life came to light. The Republican National Committee discovered too late in the nominating process that he had carried on a fifteen-year affair with the wife of a hometown friend. To conceal the scandal, the by-then divorcee was sent on an extended trip abroad with a $50,000 gift and a monthly stipend. It was another “first”—extorting money from a major political party.

It didn’t end there, although it was alleged only after Harding’s death that he had an illegitimate child with the daughter of a Marion doctor.  In her book, The President’s Daughter, Nan Britton claims she and Harding conceived a daughter in his senate office. He paid child support, and after becoming President they continued the affair using the privacy of a small room off the Oval Office. Sound familiar?

Warren Harding died in San Francisco on August 2, 1923.  He was in the midst of a cross-country policy-enlightening tour when he was struck with assumed food poisoning, although the final blow was reported to have been a heart attack or stroke.

Immediately, skeptics speculated that it had been intentional poisoning, with fingers pointed at Harding’s wife since it was she who blocked an autopsy, and thus any official finding. Nothing was proven, of course, and there were a number of associates who privately welcomed Harding’s death, averting the political embarrassment that would have come with an expected impeachment.

Presidential power and all it entails—the awesome responsibility along with entitlements—will never be fully appreciated by most of us. It is ultimate power handed to men appointed with human frailties as well as virtues. As long as nature is the ushering force, we are condemned to repeat—the good and the bad.

The Warren G. Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio is open year round from dawn to dusk. The Harding home and museum are open between Memorial and Labor Day, on Wednesday-Sunday. During winter months, weekends only.  For information, call 800-600-6894.

By Robert Carpenter
Robert Carpenter was born and raised in the New Philadelphia, Ohio area.